A conversation with Christina Janzer, Head of Research at Slack. Enterprise products are especially complex when it comes to the full user experience, and the market for these enterprise tools is often filled with functional products that may get the job done, but do so at the expense of ease and beauty. In order to envision a new kind of enterprise tool, you need a carefully built research team with a broad set of capabilities. So what does that research team look like? What kind of skill sets should you be looking for? How do you apply research to product development?
[00:01] Welcome to Season 2 of It’s Worth Doing Right. I’m your host, Olivia Hayes: passionate pragmatist, and the Head of Product Strategy at Accomplice.
In the past, research was thought of as a discrete task; something you did for a period of time to gain certain insights. It had its own silo that was separate from other aspects of the organization. Today, there is a shift to integrate research into a more holistic picture of a consumer’s experience across various situations and devices so that we can design for the reality of the consumer’s life. Enterprise products are especially complex when it comes to the full user experience and the market for these enterprise tools is often filled with functional products that may get the job done, but do so at the expense of ease and beauty.
In order to envision a new kind of enterprise tool, you need a carefully-built team with a broad set of capabilities. So, how do you build that team? Who are they, and what kind of work did they do internally to support your organization? We pose these questions to someone uniquely suited to answer them.
[00:58] My name is Christina Janzer, and I’m the head of research at Slack.
[01:02] One of the first questions we wanted to ask is about Slack’s perspective on research across the organization. What does the term research mean for you internally?
[01:07] The research team at slack is very broad. We do everything from user research to market research. We do quantitative research, qualitative research, tactical research, strategic research, and pretty much everything in between. And the reason for that is at a super high level, Slack wants to build a tool that helps make people’s working lives simpler, more pleasant, and more productive. We can’t do that without a foundational understanding of people and work as we’re becoming more connected through our devices.
[01:07] The nature of our work is changing as well. People are more accessible and often need to collaborate across countries and time zones. So how do we build enterprise tools that support this more connected workforce without compromising the quality user experience we’ve come to expect as digital consumers?
[02:03] The questions that our stakeholders have across the business aren’t actually that different. And it’s interesting because the bar for consumers has gotten much higher. There’s so many fun consumer products out there, like Instagram and Snapchat, and whatever your product of choice is. I think a higher bar has been set for figuring out how to deliver those same experiences and feelings from business tools. That was one of the questions that I had when I first sort of transitioned over to enterprise: why are tools so clunky? Why can’t they be as beautiful and as well designed as social products? And then you start to think “Well, what is it that creates delightful experiences? And how is that different for social and enterprise?” That’s when it starts to get really interesting.
[02:54] So when you think about social products, they compete for your time by providing really delightful experiences. I’m sure that the Snapchats and Instagrams of the world would love it if I used their product all day long. But with enterprise tools, it’s a completely different story. A delightful experience shouldn’t necessarily encourage you to spend more time – in fact, I would probably argue the opposite. If our tool is promising productivity, you should be able to get more done in a shorter amount of time. Ideally, you would want to see people’s productivity levels go up as their time on your product goes down. The delightful experience on an enterprise tool would be very different than a delightful experience on a consumer tool: what we optimize for would be really different.
[03:52] I think it’s easy to think about making tools as fun and engaging as consumer products. And I think you just have to be careful to define what fun and engaging mean. At the end of the day, these tools should promise productivity. So a fun and engaging tool to be productive might mean less time. It might mean giving people the ability to do things much faster. It’s important to take the time to really reassess what your goals are, and what you’re trying to do when you say you’re trying to make them more friendly, or delightful, or a fun user experience.
[04:34] We talk with our clients a lot about defining success metrics and what it means to have a product be successful. And in this case, if the goal is productivity, then success doesn’t necessarily look like people spending a ton of time, or being super engaged all the time every day.
[04:51] My team right now is trying to figure out how we actually measure this. When you look at the behavioral data, it’s hard to tell a whole lot. It’s hard to tell the entire story about what’s going on. We can see, roughly, what features people are engaging with, and how much time they’re spending on the product. But that doesn’t tell you a whole story about if they feel productive, if they feel like they’re able to be more efficient, and if they feel like they’re able to get their jobs done. And so that’s something that my team is working on: figuring out what these more attitudinal metrics are that we can layer on top of the behavioral metrics to really understand that full story. What are they actually doing with the product, in terms of time spent and features used? That kind of stuff. And how does that match with how they’re feeling and their perceived productivity and ability to get their jobs done? I think that’s an example of how you need to be able to look at a problem from lots of different angles in order to tell the comprehensive story of what’s going on.
[06:03] Connectedness in the workplace doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in the consumer space. Often times, the devices that we use at work vary based on the situation, or the task at hand. So what impact do devices have on building enterprise tools for a more connected consumer base?
[06:18] Devices are obviously really important to consider, and we do a fair amount of work on desktop specifically, on mobile specifically. But thinking about the interaction between them is really, really important. Our team thinks about this a lot. We think about the entire journey of a customer or potential customer as one story. And I think we are one of the only teams at the company that thinks about the entire customer journey like that. Obviously this is how companies work, but people have their own focus areas, whether it be like a product pillar, mobile versus desktop. And for many reasons, that’s how things are. That’s how engineering teams are organized. But we have a unique ability and opportunity to think about the entire customer journey; device-agnostic, product-pillar-agnostic. It’s important for us to have that holistic viewpoint. We can think about the entire journey as like one story: of course, there are different nodes or chapters in that story, but they all have to connect seamlessly.
[07:35] Everyone is different, and we’ve done a lot of research about this. For me personally, when I think about my Slack usage, I wake up in the morning, check my phone and look at Slack to see what I’m missing. What happened while I was sleeping? That experience is very different than when I actually sit at my office desk in front of my laptop. Understanding the different needs of people depending on the context they’re in. Where are they? Are they commuting, are they sitting at their desk? Are they in bed checking Slack? Are they just leaving a three hour meeting and feeling like they need to catch up?
[08:19] What are those different contexts? Obviously device usage sort of goes within that. Part of our job is not only to understand all of those different needs and modes, but also to help people seamlessly shift between those different modes. So that when I go to my office from the bus, and I’m checking my phone to see what’s going on, and then sit down at my desk, there should be a very seamless experience transitioning from my phone to my desktop. I guess that’s a very rambly way to say that we definitely do research on desktop, and do research on mobile, and those can sometimes be separate things. But one of the more important things is thinking about how those experiences transition between each other, and how we can make that seamless.
[09:10] I love that because it’s so experience-first rather than device-first. It’s really user-experience-centric to think that way.
[09:19] Yeah, exactly. I think we’re one of the few teams who are well-positioned to think like that. When you have hundreds of engineers, you have to organize yourselves around topics or pillars or devices. Like that’s absolutely the absolutely the way to do things. But the drawback there is that there’s not one person just thinking about what is it like to be a customer service person who’s trying to use Slack. They’re not thinking about how Slack is organized internally. They’re just thinking about how they can get their job done. A lot of the work that we do is thinking about that holistic experience. That’s one of the main things that we can bring to the table that other teams aren’t necessarily positioned to do: thinking holistically about that customer journey.
[10:12] Yeah. And it makes sense that you all are uniquely positioned internally. But when I think about my own Slack usage, I think it’s one of the few technology tools that I use throughout the day that I really do go back and forth constantly between mobile and desktop. Whereas with a lot of other tools I use, it’ll be desktop during the day, and then mobile when at night when I’m off work running around, you know what I mean? Slack is one of those few tools that for me, anyway, has that kind of experience where I’m back and forth all day long.
[10:44] We’ve definitely heard that from a lot of our customers as well. But even though we hear that a lot, there’s still so much nuance in terms of how people are using it and how they’re going back and forth. Things that are part of their job that influence how they’re using technology, and how they’re using Slack. It’s a really hard problem because we’re building for so many different people, industries, roles and functions. There are just so many different ways that people work.
[11:16] So you’ve talked a little bit about the logistics of it, but what do you feel like companies who are looking to integrate crossfunctional research into their full cycle need to know before they start that process?
[11:29] That is a really good question. There’s a lot to think about. I see a lot of people and companies who have the best intentions, and want to integrate research because it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s really important to have a super-detailed conversation about what people want from research, what they mean when they say they want research, and even moreso, what they’re going to do with it. Few researchers can do everything well – although, I call those researchers unicorns, and I’m always looking for unicorns.
[12:07] The second thing that I think about a lot is storytelling. As a researcher, you have to be a really good storyteller. You can’t just do cool research and hope that it’s going to stick and have impact. You have to be really thoughtful about how you craft the story, how you position the results in a way that will be useful to the team, and how you build that overall narrative. You have to anticipate the “so what?”s, you have to weave that into the story, and you actually have to really love this part. This is such an important part of the job. You see really, really talented researchers who just tell these really amazing stories that just like get everyone super excited about the work, and super excited about solving a certain problem. And not even just getting them excited about it, but providing clear information about what is happening, and how we can use that information to make things better.
[13:09] I touched on this a little bit earlier, but I’ll say it again: I do think a lot about diversity. When I say diversity, I mean diversity of methods, diversity in approaches, company history, schools, training, all that stuff. And I think when I think about some of the best researchers that I’ve worked with, I would use the word “learners” to describe them. They’re always wanting to learn. Always wanting to try new things. Always wanting to adapt their approaches. Always wanting to read up on a new method. And when you have a diverse team, it enables everyone to continue to learn from each other’s experiences and continue growth as a researcher. I think that’s really important.
[13:56] Yeah. I love that idea of researchers as storytellers because I think the perception is that researchers are kind of quantitative and straightforward and very scientific. And so when you put it that way, about researchers being storytellers, that gives a whole new depth to the whole idea of being a researcher. In talking about your own research team, what do you feel like are some of the big wins of your research team that you can share with us?
[14:24] I was thinking about this a little bit beforehand. I think for me, and I imagine that a lot of researchers would agree, one of the best feelings for a researcher is to hear people referencing your work -not just to actually hear them firsthand, but to hear that they are doing that when you’re not even there. I think that’s a signal that they’ve really internalized the work, and that it’s part of the way that they now think about things. Not only that they listened to your work, but that they’re using it to make decisions. And when you’re not there, they’re talking about that as foundational knowledge that everyone should be thinking about when they’re building Slack.
[15:09] There’s been a couple foundational projects that we’ve taken on over the last half of the year that have had these results. It’s been really incredible because you will hear secondhand about people from marketing and sales and products referencing it, using it, and putting it in their slides. It has become part of their vocabulary, and something that they are naturally using. It’s not something that we’re having to push anymore, and that’s a really, really cool feeling. I think that’s what we always strive for. Some of that can be attributed to the work being really solid. But I think a lot of it has to do with how the story told, and how it was told in a way that lends itself so easily to people adopting it as part of their language, as part of their understanding, and as part of their knowledge about Slack.
[16:13] There is such a huge opportunity in making work better. People spend so much time at work, and I think research can play a big role in understanding how we can use technology to make work better. I think about this in terms of productivity specifically: think about all of the inefficiencies that you encounter every day. What are the ways in which we can use technology to make that better? But then there’s also helping people feel more connected, and more connected to your work, and more connected to your company. How can work have an influence on your overall wellbeing? It would be such an interesting thing, to start to really dig into that and what that means from a research standpoint. So there’s a lot of fun things on the horizon, and I’m excited to dig into some of that stuff.
[17:12] What is something that you’re working on either personally or professionally right now that you’re really excited about?
[17:17] We’re really excited to share more of the research that we’re doing externally. We’re about to launch a blog. I don’t have the actual date nailed down yet, but hopefully in the next month or two. Hopefully that’ll be a way for people to learn a little bit more from our team about what it is that we’re seeing in terms of work trends, and what are we seeing in terms of opportunity areas. Obviously Slack is trying to solve a lot of these problems, but I don’t think it’s just Slack’s problem to solve. We aim to be a little bit more transparent about some of the things that we’re finding in research, and letting other people learn from that as well. I’m super excited about that.
[18:00] Taking a broader view of research internally means that your organization’s mentality should shift from device-first to experience-first. Taking a holistic approach to research across your organization can help illuminate the entire user experience from end to end. Researchers should be empowered to be explorers, innovators, and storytellers. When we designed for today’s enterprise, your product’s metrics for success will look different than a consumer product – and that means staying closely aligned with what your customer actually needs. And yet, today’s workforce is full of connected consumers with high expectations of streamlined digital tools. Creating a research team with diverse experiences and intellectual curiosity will help you build products that shifts your consumer’s work from being just a job to helping them feel more integrated and engaged in their work.
[18:49] Thanks for joining us for today’s conversation. To see more content from the Accomplice team or leave us feedback, visit us at itsworthdoingright.com or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember: if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.